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Glenapp Castle ~ Press Reviews

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International Homes (Vol 9, No. 2, 2002)

'A Scottish Man's Home is His Castle'

Editor Emma Cant spent a fantastic weekend at the totally renovated Glenapp Castle in Ayrshire where she was one of a party of wedding guests. But the castle hasn't always been the impressive building it is today.

Fay and Graham Cowan are quite emphatic when asked as to whether they would take on a project like the renovation of Glenapp Castle again, the emphasis being on the negative. 'We're not property developers, we just loved Glenapp Castle and wanted to bring it back to life', says Graham. And when you consider the magnitude of breathing life into a derelict 19th century castle, you can understand the Cowan's reticence at re-living the experience.

When the couple took on the project, the once magnificent structure was in an appalling state: patchy dry rot gave way to bare stone walls; the windows that were still in situ leaked; electric wires (live) hung down from the ceilings; some floors had taken the same route as the missing windows; and the parquet flooring curled up at the edges aided by the water that ran down the interior walls. The previous occupants had left some carpets, but the large mushrooms these floor coverings nurtured made their retention implausible. Add to this, hot water difficulties, evidence of squatters and a boiler that certainly wouldn't pass any safety tests and you might begin to wonder at the sanity of two people who were prepared to put their lives on hold because of a passion for one property.

Life Changing Decision

So what were the circumstances that led the Cowans to lease Glenapp Castle in 1994, let alone buy it mid-renovation in 1998? Graham continues; 'We were newly married and hardly saw each other. I was employed as a vet, while Fay was working 100 miles away, which is hardly the ideal start to a marriage. Fay had grown up in her family's hotel and had worked there from an early age, before studying for a BA in Hotel Management. We had vaguely considered buying a small hotel to run together when Glenapp Castle came onto the market. When we saw the building, we were smitten'. Despite the appalling state of the property, the Cowans recognised it's potential and couldn't bear it's inevitable fall from grace unless someone came to it's rescue, and fast.

Main Lounge Before Restoration  
Main Lounge Before Restoration Main Lounge Before Restoration Main Lounge After Restoration
Main Lounge After Restoration

The first year must have proved a frustrating one. While the Cowans waited for the required consents to come through, they could do little more to the castle itself, other than to make it as wind and watertight as possible while using tried and tested imaginations to envisage it's ultimate grandeur. This first year, however, was far from a wasted one. In keeping with the demise of the building, the gardens and cottages in the castle grounds were also in dire need of a little TLC.

After one year, the cottages were finally in some semblance of order, the gardens were less feral and, more to the point, their young son was soon to have a sibling. The cottage they were living in really was too small for a family of four and as soon as consents came through, Fay and Graham started work on the top floor of the castle to turn it into a family home.

Let the Renovation Commence

Starting at the top and working their way down, the Cowans found a whole array of structural changes awaiting attention, some of which can only be described as lethal. 'There were rotten wood lintels that needed replacing with concrete ones, the tower needed to be underpinned in order to replace a dangerous 1970s lift and we had to build a four storey internal fire escape. Of course this was all in addition to rewiring, re-plumbing, the new heating and sewerage systems, re-slating and new stonework, particularly on the castellations' As if these structural alterations were not enough, 11 en suite bathrooms had to be created without disturbing the layout too much.

Just imagining the state of the castle and the amount of work required is enough to make many a grown man weep, let alone the thought of undertaking as much of that work themselves as is feasible. 'We did a great deal of the labouring ourselves and, as there was no surveyor involved, we had to sort that side of things out as well. The only involvement of an architect was for the submission of the plans, and all the work we weren't able to do was contracted out, as far as possible to local trades people. We found this was easier than dealing with large companies where there is a lot of red tape to wade through.'

Of course, any project on such a huge scale is bound to run into difficulties, but was there anything that the Cowans thought might be tricky that turned out to be surprisingly easy? 'Usually it was the other way round. However, two or three times, we needed to knock a door through what we thought was a two foot thick wall, only to discover a blocked up doorway underneath. It was surprising how often we seemed to be putting back the original layout.'

From Nightmare to Reality

With the magnitude of renovating a virtually derelict 73 room Baronial Castle, you could understand the instigators might have sleep disturbed with images of crumbling walls and dodgy electrics. Nothing so obvious. Graham's dreams were obviously ahead of reality; 'I used to have a recurring nightmare about forgetting to buy condiment sets and there being no salt and pepper on the tables for the first guests,' he says.

Anyone who has stayed at Glenapp Castle will know how ridiculous this nightmare seems. Not only are there condiments in abundance, the attention to dining table detail is obvious from the moment you walk into the dining rooms. Two very differently decorated, but equally elegant dining rooms have huge, almost oversize windows with views across the beautiful gardens to the Irish Sea. Inside the castle, no cultural stone is left unturned as the antique furniture and original oil paintings furnishing the rooms complement the grand architecture.

It is just this attention to detail that has made the castle such a superb structure with, it has to be said, some awe-inspiring rooms. The impressive Master Bedrooms complete with chaise longue, four poster bed and sofa are luxuriously spacious, while the en suite is the size of a large double bedroom. In contrast, the cosy library offers a tranquil environment ideal for contemplative thought and a gin and tonic before dinner.

Looking at Glenapp Castle today, it is hard to believe it was ever left to wrack and ruin. And, the moment you walk through the doors into the oak panelled hallway, you cannot fail to notice the plush surroundings and quality of the workmanship. Believe me, a weekend at Glenapp Castle comes highly recommended.

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